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A Guide to Big Game Colorado Hunting in the San Juan Mountains

Whether you’re an experienced hunter or new to the sport, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hunt big game in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. This area of the state offers plentiful hunting locations and a variety of local outfitters, making it the ideal place for a hunting trip. Stay at our RiverWalk Inn this Colorado hunting seasons 2024 and start making plans to bag some big game.

couple out for colorado hunting seasons 2024

Big Game Species in Colorado

From several species of deer to fierce predators like mountain lions, big game can be found in abundance around Colorado. Come open season, these are just some of the animals you can hope to bag in the San Juan Mountains.

Elk: Elk can be found in abundance in Colorado, often residing on steep mountain ridges. Expect to do quite a bit of hiking across challenging terrain during an elk hunt.

Deer: Both mule deer and white-tailed deer can be hunted in Colorado. The western portion of the state has some of the best mule deer hunting, and white-tailed deer can often be found wandering the plains of eastern Colorado.

Black Bears: Black bears occupy most forested areas, especially near sources of fruit and nuts. These animals take plenty of time and stamina to find and track, so prepare yourself physically and mentally before taking one on.

Mountain Lions: These elusive big cats can often be found in areas with an abundance of deer. Mountain lion hunting can be difficult, but you’ll have a better chance if you bring along a hunting dog to track the animal’s scent.

Pronghorn: Pronghorn are prolific in Colorado, but are incredible quick and can prove difficult to hunt. Be prepared to wait patiently and crawl through foliage to get in range without startling the animal.

How to Get a Hunting License

Acquiring a big game hunting license in Colorado requires patience and some advance planning. Big game licenses in the state are issued based on a draw system, a lottery system that issues licenses to randomly chosen applicants based on the number of animals that can be hunted in the area. Prospective big game hunters will need to apply prior to the draw deadline then wait patiently for the results.

To begin the application process, you must first purchase a qualifying license through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department Website. From there, you can apply for a big game license based on which species you intend to hunt, which will then be awarded based on the draw system. There are two rounds of license selection in Colorado – the primary draw and secondary draw. The primary draw occurs earlier and awards licenses to a first round of hunters in their chosen categories. The secondary draw then awards the remaining categories of licenses to a second round of applications. If you are successfully awarded a license in the draw, you’ll need to pay the fee, depending on your chosen category, after which the license will be mailed to you.

If you are unsuccessful in the draw, you do have the option to purchase an over-the-counter license. These are only available for a limited number of species that either went unclaimed in the draw or are available to hunt in unlimited quantities.

bull elk with majestic horn ready for colorado hunting seasons 2024

Top Hunting Spots Near Pagosa Springs

Several Colorado State Parks offer hunting opportunities for species like deer and elk. Navajo State Park, south of Pagosa Springs, offers hunting opportunities along the shores of the Piedra River, and Lone Mesa State Park allows limited public hunting of deer, elk and bear.

Big game hunting is also abundant in the San Juan National Forest. Four different wilderness areas, the Weminuche Wilderness, South San Juan Wilderness, Lizard Head Wilderness and Hermosa Wilderness, make excellent hunting grounds for almost any big game animal found in Colorado.

If you’re new to the Colorado hunting scene, you may want to recruit an experienced outfitter to lead you on a guided hunt. Crazy Horse Outfitters, a local guide service, will prepare you for an unforgettable hunting trip. Choose to embark on a day trip with a skilled guide or book a wilderness drop camp, a complete hunting package including a move-in-ready base camp and plenty of supplies.

San Juan Outfitting is another guide service ready to help plan your Colorado hunting excursion. Book a trip with an expert hunter to learn effective hunting tactics or purchase an unguided drop camp package with all the camping necessities.

Colorado Hunting Tips

Whether you’re an experienced hunter taking a first time trip to the San Juans or a novice hunter seeking advice, check out these tips for hunting big game in our beautiful state.

  • Learn the season dates. An abbreviated list of dates can be found below, or you can check out the detailed season calendar.

    • Archery: September 2-30

    • Muzzleloading rifle: September 14-22

    • First Rifle season: October 12-16

    • Second Rifle season: October 26-November 3

    • Third Rifle Season: November 9-15

    • Fourth Rifle Season: November 20-24

  • Study up on big game species. Before organizing your hunting trip, study up on the season, habits and physical characteristics of your chosen game. Become very familiar with variations in species to effectively track and bag an animal.

  • Scout the area before you hunt. Take a day to study your hunting grounds prior to loading up your gear, especially if you’re visiting the area for the first time. Find a few prospective spots for your base camp and lookout for any signs of animals.

  • Arrive prepared. Pack plenty of gear including a GPS, binoculars and fluorescent hunting gear. By Colorado law, you must wear at least 500 square inches of solid fluorescent pink or orange when hunting, so pack accordingly.

  • Plan to hunt all day. You’ll have the best shot at bagging a big buck or elusive mountain lion if you plan an all-day hunt. A dusk-till-dawn hunt gives you a better chance at spotting roaming animals as they move throughout the day.

hot tub bubbling
relaxing area with snacks and football on the tv

After a long day out in the San Juan Mountains, retire to the luxurious comfort of our RiverWalk Inn. Relax in a bed dressed with high-end linens or round up your hunting buddies for celebratory drinks at a nearby restaurant or brew pub.

Book with us now and start planning your perfect Colorado hunting seasons 2024 trip to Pagosa Springs. With a sizable parking lot, easy highway access and even a knowledgeable local hunter on site, our RiverWalk Inn is practically a hunter’s paradise.


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